I was the keynote speaker for the American Subcontractors Association (ASA) Houston Chapter last week. As I try to do on those occasions, I asked a couple of questions of the crowd in my preliminaries. As expected, the results were most revealing.
First, I asked whether their level of business was greater now than at this time last year. Almost 70% of the audience raised their hands that indeed their business was better. That response fell in line with the Greater Houston Partnership’s latest economic figure for the Houston MSA nonresidential construction permits year over year, up 48.9%. This is one of the highest in the country.
The next question I asked was whether the subcontractors were having trouble finding and hiring qualified workers. Over 40% of the audience raised their hands that they were.
Recent articles and interviews in the Houston media have confirmed both of those responses. According to a recent Houston Business Journal article, the energy sector, which is responsible for over 40% of Houston region jobs, is hiring skilled workers away from the construction industry in the region with promises of higher pay and new opportunities. The recent technological advances and the new finds in the “shale play” are accelerating their needs.
Those facts alone would point to possible hiring issues, but when combined with the amount of construction underway on the Houston region, the picture is clear. A group in the real estate sector is tracking as many as 75 new office buildings being planned, designed, or under construction in the region. The subcontractors in the region, in almost all categories, are working hard on new projects, hiring, recruiting new workers, and fighting to retain the teams that they have in place.
Open hiring meetings and job fairs are going on in offices and at job site all over the region. The good news is that the Houston region was one of the first in the country to recover all the jobs lost in the recession and to enter the next expansion cycle. The other news is that the subcontractors, vendors and suppliers are competing for a smaller workforce. The great news for qualified skilled crafts workers is that there is a thriving market for their services.